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My first tiara – a fundraiser is born!

Updated: 16 hours ago

I was an over-achieving junior in high school when I was invited to participate in the Central New Jersey chapter of the American Heart Association’s “Queen of Hearts” program. There would be a party and I needed a red dress. A pageant? I was definitely the wrong girl for that job … But as my mom’s friend (I now realize she was an ideal event committee member) explained – this was a chance to take on a new challenge and add an impressive extra-curricular to my college applications. Oh – right! She started speaking my language, and probably before I really knew what I was signing up for, I was hooked.

The competition was straight forward, the teen who raised the most money in support of American Heart Association’s local programs would be crowned the “Queen of Hearts” at the annual gala. My fundraiser instincts kicked in and I developed a set of tactics around the strategy of a winning campaign.[1]

I started with letters. I mailed letters to everyone I knew. I ran a direct mail campaign using my database (my mother’s address book) that highlighted the mission of the American Heart Association and also the reasons they should support me in my attempt to be crowned Queen of Hearts. The checks started coming in… I got the same rush of excitement then that I do now when I review campaign data. IT WORKED! (This may be where the happy dance was invented – but more on that in another blog post.)

I coordinated speaking engagements at the Lions Club and Rotary meetings. Previously I knew these groups only as reasons for my father to miss dinner … but now they were MY audience. I held court in front of those rooms of grown-ups – sharing the mission. They wanted to hear what I had to say! I had knowledge and they were interested in learning about the work of the Heart Association and how they could participate in local programs. This was the limited corporate silo of my Queen of Hearts fundraising – the checks came in again but this time they were from business accounts!

My knowledge was also featured (and my personal sense of celebrity boosted) by a series of radio interviews. I’m sure that all of the candidates had a chance to participate in this arm of the chapter’s PR campaign for the event – but that didn’t matter as I took the opportunity to talk about my campaign’s success.

We achieved community and volunteer engagement with weekend activity at the local racetrack. I recruited friends and family members to join me and shake cans for change at local events. Rolling coins may not be a good source of income in 2021 – but we rolled a lot of coins over that semester. And that was my on-the-job training in donor pyramids and the importance of balancing grassroots fundraising with a major gifts program.

I didn’t know at the time that I was building a base of knowledge that I would carry into my career. But I did win the title and the tiara!

Along with its sparkle, the tiara brought me lessons that I still use:

1.Your supporters have friends, meet them and make them your friends too (thanks Mom)

2. Build a committee to spread the word and figuratively shake the cans

3. Even strangers will support your mission when you are the expert about something important to them.

4. Success doesn’t come from following one idea – deploy all your tactics!

To learn more about mobilizing your team around the tactics and teamwork that might work for your organization – reach out to us at


Amy (Mouse)

Amy is crowned by "Queen Of Hearts"

[1] Of course I didn’t do it alone … but I have no memory of the help so I’ll take the credit.

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